Losing a loved one due to someone else's negligence or recklessness is emotionally devastating. The unexpected financial hardships can become overwhelming when medical expenses, loss of financial support, and funeral costs become dominant factors after your loved one's demise.
You can seek financial compensation for your loss by filing a wrongful death claim. Nevada law has established that the least negligent parties who cause wrongful deaths can do is compensate the surviving family members.
Even though financial compensation will not make up for the demise of your loved one, it will help you solve the financial difficulties, and you will have obtained justice for your loved one. To obtain compensation, you must prove that the party you are accusing caused your loved one's death. You also need legal advice and help to increase your chances of succeeding in your claim.
At Las Vegas Car Accident Attorney Law Firm, we can help you with filing a wrongful death claim and lawsuit if necessary. We collect the relevant evidence, build a compelling case, and negotiate with insurance companies to ensure you recover the damages you deserve.
Defining a Wrongful Death Lawsuit/Claim
Wrongful death claims/suits resemble personal injury claims/lawsuits. Rather than the hurt party bringing the lawsuit, the family members of a person who died because of another party's negligence file the claim/suit for them.
These suits can be brought against one party, such as a car motorist who caused a loved one's death in a collision or an auto manufacturer or company that made a faulty product that led to the death. If someone caused the demise of your loved one, and they acted negligently, recklessly, or intentionally and could have prevented it, you can pursue damages from them.
Wrongful death lawsuits/claims were made possible to safeguard the well-being and rights of people who lost loved ones through accidents. Nev. Rev. Stat. 41.085 provides that the deceased's representatives and interstate heirs can pursue damages from the person liable for the victim's demise.
If the liable party is dead, a claim can be filed against their representative and any other involved party.
To acquire damages in a wrongful death claim, you must prove that the accused party is to blame for the car accident. And for you to demonstrate that, you must verify the following elements, and the court must find that they are true:
- Someone died (that is, the decedent).
- The death was due to the accused's intentional act, recklessness, or negligence.
- You are a personal representative or heir of the deceased.
- You suffered damage due to the victim's demise.
How best you can prove these elements depends entirely on the specific case facts. Common pieces of evidence you can use to demonstrate your case include:
- Written or recorded communication by the liable party
- Testimony from the accident reconstructionist expert
- Eyewitness testimony
- Medical records
- Video surveillance footage
If your lawsuit reaches the trial stage, the liable party will not be subject to a probation or prison sentence, as would be the case in a criminal trial. Instead, the court would order them to pay damages in the form of money.
Compared with other kinds of claims/suits, wrongful death suits resemble other personal injury cases. Rather than a hurt person bringing a suit/directly, like in personal injury cases, the victim's heirs bring the wrongful death lawsuit/claim for them.
Eligibility for Bringing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit/Claim
Only two parties can file a wrongful death lawsuit/claim. They are:
- The decedent's intestate heirs. An intestate heir is the legal word for the deceased's surviving family, including their children, spouse/domestic partner, and parents; in the absence of a surviving domestic partner, spouse, or children
- The personal representative of the decedent's estate
If the deceased person was married, their surviving domestic partner, children, or spouse are the intestate heirs. And if they were childless and unmarried, their intestate heirs are their parents, siblings, and the closest surviving relative, neither a sibling nor a parent.
In some instances, stepchildren, stepparents, or children unrelated to the deceased can bring a wrongful death suit against a liable party. When they do so, these parties must prove they depended on the deceased for at least six months before their demise.
The deceased's closest friends, fiance(e)s, and significant others are unqualified to file a wrongful death claim/lawsuit, even if the decedent named them as beneficiaries in their will.
Wrongful Death Damages
Wrongful death, defined under Nevada Revised Statute 41.085, is Nevada's most severe civil lawsuit. Thus, it is not surprising that these lawsuits usually yield significant jury rewards and settlements.
Heirs and personal representatives of people who died in a car accident due to another's reckless behavior or negligence can bring wrongful claims or lawsuits to recover monetary losses related to their loved one’s demise.
Damages awarded in wrongful death claims/suits fall under compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages mean to approximate the estate's actual losses. They are further divided into two— economic and non-economic damages.
- Economic damages, also known as special damages— the amount recoverable as special damages, are described under Nev. Rev. Stat. 41.085a. These damages can easily be calculated and their value estimated. They are generally awarded to cover the calculable losses incurred due to the victim's death.
- Non-economic damages, also known as general damages— are awarded to plaintiffs to compensate for their emotional damage due to a loved one’s demise. Even though it is almost impossible to assign a dollar value to pain or suffering, the awarded monetary damages can assist in alleviating the financial hardships the death created for surviving family members.
The court may award punitive damages based on the facts surrounding the victim's death. These are generally awarded to punish the liable party for their negligent acts and deter others from acting in the same wrongful way. Punitive damages and penalties are those the deceased would have been awarded had they survived the accident. They are instead awarded to the decedent's loved ones and heirs.
If the deceased's representative brings the wrongful death suit and wins, they can recover damages to reimburse for given types of losses, including:
- Medical bills and expenses the decedent incurred before they died. This includes all the medical costs incurred because of the car accident.
- Burial and funeral expenses.
- Lost benefits and wages the decedent would have been expected to earn had they survived the accident— if the decedent provided most of the financial support for their family, the damages for lost wages could help surviving family members cover the bills until they have figured out how to manage their financial responsibilities without that income.
- Lost future earnings.
- Loss of financial support the deceased would have provided, for instance, from health insurance.
- Lost inheritance
- The decedent would have collected any special damages from the liable party had they survived.
Personal representatives can also recover the punitive damages the deceased would have received had they survived the accident.
If the decedent's heirs file the wrongful death suit, they can receive damages to compensate for other kinds of losses, including:
- Survivors' sorrow or grief
- Loss of society, companionship, comfort, affection, and care of the decedent— when a spouse or parent passes away in a car accident, financial recovery cannot bring back the guidance or companionship they would have provided. However, compensation can help survivors build a better life despite the loss.
- Loss of consortium
- Any disfigurement, pain, or suffering the decedent experienced before they died.
- Loss of services by the decedent— for instance, a stay-at-home parent who cared for the children likely saved the family a significant amount of money on daycare expenses. A stay-at-home parent might also have taken care of responsibilities such as yard maintenance or house cleaning, which could cost a significant amount to outsource.
Having an experienced wrongful death lawyer by your side throughout your case will enable you to recover the compensation you deserve.
Determining Financial Loss
There are several factors courts look at when establishing the financial loss suffered by a deceased person.
Unlike proving certain damages like medical bills and funeral expenses, which can easily be done by submitting relevant bank account statements and receipts, it is harder to prove lost future income. Various factors must be considered to establish to what extent the deceased would have financially contributed if they had survived the accident. These factors include the decedent’s
- Physical and health conditions
- Life expectancy
- Earning capacity
However, the most critical consideration is the deceased's circumstances at their demise. For instance, if a grownup wage earner passes away and leaves behind dependents, the primary elements of damage recovery will be loss of guidance and lost income. In this case, the jury will likely consider the deceased's earnings at their demise and their possible future earnings.
Nevertheless, your lawyer would comprehensively investigate all relevant proof of your loved one's death to seek the highest possible recovery. Because damages are usually speculative and challenging to calculate, you can seek out an economist to assist you in determining what compensation amount you should have.
An economist's expert testimony can help convince the jury regarding the monetary value of your losses. This is especially true in cases where the decedent was a homemaker and therefore did not have a permanent income. An economist can show how, even though the family did not lose income, it will need to spend substantial funds to cover the services the deceased is no longer providing, like education, cleaning, child care, cooking, and transportation.
It may also be challenging to prove financial loss where the deceased is elderly or a child. When a grownup passes away, it is pretty simple to evaluate their monetary contributions through pay stubs and bank statements. But loss due to wrongful death is also determined by other components of the deceased's relationship with their family. Courts consider potential child rearing, nurturing, companionship, and love when evaluating compensation.
When a minor dies, parents' compensation will be limited to only their monetary loss, which may be challenging to determine when the child was young and had not yet shown their earning capacity. Similarly, it will be harder to calculate compensation for the demise of an elderly person beyond retirement age or lacking much earning potential.
In a wrongful death lawsuit, a jury establishes the compensation amount the deceased's family should receive. However, the judge may adjust the compensation amount if inadequate proof of the deceased's income was provided. A judge might even opt to order another trial.
Distribution of Damages
If a wrongful death suit results in compensation being awarded to the decedent's heirs, it will be divided as per NRS 41.085. This statute provides that a decedent's heirs are eligible for a percentage of the compensation amount. In legal terms, an heir refers to a party qualified to succeed the deceased's property if they (the decedent) had passed away intestate. The statute further says that each heir may file a lawsuit and prove their respective damages associated with the wrongful death.
Heirs can prove their sorrow, grief, loss of society, companionship, comfort, and support to establish that they are eligible for a percentage of awarded damages. An heir could also seek to recover damages depending on the decedent's disfigurement, pain, and suffering. After the courts have considered proof from all the heirs, they will apportion the compensation amount in proportion to every heir's respective damages.
A surviving domestic partner or spouse will be allocated the most significant percentage of wrongful death damages. The next most significant portion will be issued to the surviving children if any. The compensation might further be divided among other beneficiaries if they show they incurred losses due to the victim's demise.
Note that the deceased's debts are not inherently covered or dissolved by a wrongful death claim. If the dead still had outstanding debts, certain damages from a wrongful death case (mainly specific economic and punitive damages, but never non-economic damages) will be responsible for offsetting those debts and will be distributed accordingly.
This is to say that any of the deceased's outstanding debts cannot be paid from the damages the decedent's heirs recovered in the wrongful death suit. They will be taken from the compensation the deceased's representative recovered.
Insurance Cover for Wrongful Death
Usually, insurance covers wrongful death based on the specific terms of the insurance policy. However, in most circumstances, policy limits fail to cover everything the plaintiff seeks. This is particularly the case if there are two or more claimants, for instance, the personal representative and an interstate heir.
Should I Proceed to Trial or Settle Out of Court?
Most personal injury claims and lawsuits are resolved through negotiations alone. The damages recovery process permits all the involved parties to be creative and flexible when coming up with possible solutions. By settling the case, the parties will avoid the expense and time of a court trial.
However, most grieving claimants want their case to go to court, and understandably so. They want the accused to be ruled responsible in court. The trial procedure might provide closure to the plaintiff, and juries might award more financial compensation than the plaintiff would have received had they settled out of court.
Although, court trials come with risks. The accused may be ruled not responsible for the victim's wrongful death. Also, the litigation usually takes several years. Even if the accused loses, they could appeal, dragging on the process for additional years.
The Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Generally, you have a two-year timeframe from when the death occurred to bring a wrongful death suit against a liable party. Two years start running from the date your loved one died. If you file the lawsuit after two years have elapsed, the responsible party will likely seek to dismiss the case.
That is why we encourage you to consult an expert wrongful death lawyer immediately after the death. The lawyer can then take their time to examine the case, compile valuable proof, and build a compelling case before the statute of limitations expires. They will have enough time to have an accident reconstructionist come in, collect witness statements, and find expert witnesses to testify on the deceased's behalf.
How Long Will the Case Last?
Unfortunately, a family whose loved one has died wrongfully starts suffering immediately. Usually, they are emotionally overwhelmed because they have to mourn their loved one’s loss and address the resulting financial burdens. Even though no two wrongful death cases are the same, they may take between a year and four to settle based on various factors. These factors include the number of responsible parties, to what degree they are liable, and whether or not they have agreed to settle without going to trial.
Responsible parties unwilling to settle usually force plaintiffs to trial. When your case goes to trial, you must show the jury that the liable party was reckless, negligent, or acted intentionally. Where more than one party is to blame for the car accident, it is essential to prove the percentage of liability of each. This will directly affect both punitive and compensatory damage awards. Court trials can be overwhelming. Consequently, you want to have an experienced and reliable lawyer represent you.
Criminal Cases vs. Wrongful Death Lawsuits
One liable party can be subject to a wrongful death claim and criminal homicide charges for the same car accident in Nevada. However, these are entirely distinct legal processes. It is common for a lawsuit to come after a related criminal court trial. But this is unnecessary, and you can file one without the other.
While you and other family members can serve as critical witnesses in the criminal proceedings of your loved one’s murder, you are not a party to the criminal proceedings. The only involved parties are the state and the defendant.
Another difference between civil and criminal charges is the standard of proof the claimant must meet to prevail. It is easier for you to prevail in wrongful death cases than for the D.A to win manslaughter or murder charges. In civil lawsuits, a claimant must prove the liable party negligently caused the demise by a preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance of the evidence translates to 'it is more likely than not the accused is liable.'
However, in criminal cases, the state must prove murder beyond any reasonable doubt. Beyond any reasonable doubt is a much higher standard than "preponderance of the evidence." Therefore, even if the D.A opts not to file murder charges against the liable party or the judge/jury gives a not guilty verdict for murder, you can still file and potentially prevail in wrongful death civil lawsuit.
Find a Skilled Car Accident Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
Wrongful death lawsuits or claims resulting from car accidents are usually highly emotional and challenging to pursue. Even though the circumstances surrounding the accident that resulted in the demise may seem straightforward, the entire process of uncovering critical facts, preserving proof, and presenting it effectively to recover damages is usually complicated. You will need help and legal advice from a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer.
At Las Vegas Car Accident Attorney Law Firm, we address all these challenges for each client with uniqueness. Our attorneys have extensive knowledge of the state's wrongful death law and understand how they can use it to assist clients in obtaining maximum compensation for the loss they suffered.
We will help you fight for what you deserve while not forgetting the challenges you could be facing. We will demonstrate compassion, respect, and courtesy for you and your family throughout the process to help you relieve the stress you have due to the tragic incident that happened to your loved one. Call us today at 702-576-0010 to talk to our team of devoted wrongful death lawyers and start chasing your compensation.